Ultimate Winter Mountain Biking Guide – Part 1

7 Easy Preparation Tips & Cool Ideas

1. Dress for the Conditions

winter+me+and+steveIf you’re anything like us at Burnrock Mountain, then you’ll enjoy biking in the winter.

However, with wet, muddy and potentially freezing conditions, it means that you are at much higher risk from exposure.

Dress with multiple layers of bike-wear or outdoor sports type clothes. On cold days this is 4 or more layers. A breathable base layer, mid layer, softshell, and waterproof & wind-proof jacket. If it is really cold, you may require more layers, so always carry an extra one in your rucksack. It is better to be too warm, than cold.

Wear good waterproof & wind-proof gloves, again preferably biking gloves. These are designed to keep out the wind, wet and keep your hands warm. Many of them have soft thumb patches for helping to wipe sweat or water from your face.

If you don’t have them, a good investment is waterproof socks. These are really essential for mountain biking in the winter, unless the ground is bone dry. To retain extra warmth, they can be enhanced with an extra pair underneath if your biking shoes allow. If you have overshoes wear these too.

When the weather is cold, any uncovered part of the body will lose heat, so whilst the adage that you lose 40% of your body heat from your head is false, the reality is, that if you dress warmly but leave your head uncovered, you will feel cold.

All that you need is a thin beany-type hat, or a specialist biking hat which fits under or over your helmet. NEVER ride without a helmet. In very cold conditions, you may also wish to use a bike scarf or similar item to protect any exposure of your neck.

2. Adapt Old Clothes

As much as it’s nice to have all the gear, we do appreciate that biking clothing can be very expensive, and given that you may only use some of the items infrequently, another option can be to get creative with old clothing or items that you no longer use. Adapting these old items to biking, can be fun, and add a funky twist to your biking image!

Home-made Biking Overshoes

Whilst not designed to last for more than a couple of rides, using a heavy duty carrier bag, pulled over your bike shoes, and cut to size, then covered with an old pair of walking or ski socks, can be pretty effective at keeping your feet dry. Use some electrical tape around the foot, to loosely secure the bag in front & behind of the cleats, and cut a hole through the bag & sock to allow the cleat to attach to the pedal. Ensure it’s loose enough to pull over the foot when putting on, and secure with either elastic bands or more electrical tape over the socks. If you are particularly good with a sewing machine. Ok, so it isn’t trendy, but it’s functional.

Bike Scarf

Easy enough to make, either from a piece of old material, or even better, detach the neck from an old roll-neck jumper.

3. Bike Maintenance & Setup

imagesWinter bike maintenance is pretty critical. When the weather is cold, the last thing you want is a long walk to your destination due to a failed component.

Clean your bike after every ride, using a brush, warm water, & gentle cleaning fluid like Muc-Off. Ensure you properly dry everything you can get at, and re-oil the chain & moving components immediately to protect them. Check the operation of your gears & dérailleur after each ride, and immediately adjust any poor shifting or fix any damage.

The forks should be lightly treated with a Teflon-based lubricant, and the excess removed with a clean cloth.

Check your brake pads & brake housing before every ride, and check the bolts attaching your brakes to the frame weekly.

Check your wheels. The hubs, rims and spokes all need to be checked weekly, with the hubs being re-greased if required, assuming they aren’t a sealed assembly. Any dings to the rims or loose sokes should be checked by your local bike shop and repair or tightened as necessary.

When riding in slippery or icy conditions, grip is on short supply. Consequently, lower your tyre pressures to increase grip. Consider changing your tyres for a dedicated winter tyre if you can afford it. If you are likely to be regularly riding in icy or snowy conditions, then snow tyres are a necessity. Ride carefully and avoid taking corners at speed until you are sure of the conditions.

Set your suspension to the softest option, to ensure that in the event of bumps, your wheels stay in contact with the ground. This is also helps the bike setup to ensure that any sudden changes in weighting are more gradually applied, although this is somewhat marginal.

4. Ride with spares

ibex_itc_15As with riding at any time of the year, carrying spares is a wise idea. In the winter, having sufficient parts & tools to ensure you can get home in the event of a problem, is critical.

If you don’t run tubeless, then carry a spare inner tube, perhaps two, and a puncture repair kit with ready glued & quick curing patches. You can buy repair kits that are less than 3cm square and a few millimetres thick. So there can be no excuses for not being prepared for punctures. By having thicker winter tyres, you maybe less vulnerable to punctures, but at the same time, with the ground wet, and running with lower pressures you may be more vulnerable to sharp stones & flint exposed by heavy rain and wet conditions. So be aware of where you are riding, and where possible avoid areas likely to pose an increased puncture risk.

Whilst a broken spoke or dented rim, doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be unable to ride home, if you do have an issue, you should immediately head for the closest point of safety, especially when the conditions are cold. Wheels with a broken spoke, dented rim, or slight buckle are much more likely to have further problems.

Short of carrying a spare wheel, there is little you can do to protect against this, aside from cleaning your wheels & checking your hub, spokes & rims regularly.

One thing to be aware of is not to over tighten your spokes, as in the cold weather the metal will contract and become more brittle. Whilst spokes must be tight & firm, with very little flex, if they are overtightened, it may increase the risk of a spoke breaking. You will have to judge this yourself, based upon experience. If you are breaking lots of spokes, this could be a reason. If you are not confident doing this, then you would be best taking your bike to your local bike shop to be checked.

5. Start & Keep Warm

In cold or freezing conditions, you will take longer to warm up, and the wind-chill factor is much higher. Consequently it is best to increase your body heat before starting.

It is recommended to gently stretch whilst still in a warm environment, and then ensure you warm up either inside, perhaps by jogging for a couple of minutes on the spot, or alternatively, if you’re too embarrassed to do that, then starting your ride off with a higher than usual cadence is advisable to reduce the strain on your muscles until they are properly warm.

If you have a sufficiently large rucksack, then we’d also suggest packing a rugged flask containing a hot & sweet drink, in the event of you becoming caught out in the cold. Additionally, you will need to maintain your fluid intake throughout your ride, and in very cold conditions it is possible your frame mounted water bottles could freeze.

To help prevent your bottles from freezing, use an old sock to pull over each bottle, or buy an insulated bottle. This won’t stop freezing altogether, but will slow down the process. Even better, if you have the arms from an old wetsuit, you can use these to make neoprene sleeves for your bottles. Note that you might have to adjust the bottle cage if the neoprene is thick.

6. Prepare your Route & Ride in a Group

mapIt goes without saying, that when the whether is cold, that route preparation is essential. It is advisable to only ride trails & routes that you are familiar with, and know what to expect in cold or wet weather. If it is unavoidable or you are determined to ride a new trail, then further planning is essential.

Check out your route on a map, and mark it up in advance. Whether or not you have a GPS, a paper map should always be carried as a backup. Make a note of any particularly steep trails and note especially where trails pass near to, or over, streams, rivers, or low-lying land which maybe subject to flooding or very muddy conditions. Plan to avoid these where possible, and if you unexpectedly come across a tricky or dangerous patch, then stop & walk if safe to do so, or adjust your route accordingly.

If you are riding alone, it is absolutely necessary to tell someone where you are going, your route plans, and what time you are expecting to be back. Whilst it is possible signal strength will be weak or non-existent, it is always wise to carry a mobile phone in a waterproof bag or within a waterproof compartment in a rucksack.

Additionally, carry enough money to get you home or back to your vehicle by taxi from the nearest road. Obviously if you’re riding somewhere without nearby roads, or a mobile phone signal, then it would be unwise to go alone, especially in the winter.

The preference for most riders, even those who enjoy a ride alone, is ultimately to ride in groups. It is much safer in wet and cold conditions to do so. Three or more is the best number, as one person can go for help in the event of an emergency, whilst the other cares for any injured party.

7. Consider a Turbo Trainer

ranz-x-jd-118-magnetic-turbo-trainer-with-remote-leverWell, if you don’t like the cold & wet, and having read this article, and still don’t fancy it even if properly prepared, then there is only one thing for it, and that is buying a turbo trainer.

With Christmas just around the corner, you know what to put on your list to Santa, and you can also do so content in the knowledge that you’re buying something that will help you lose the extra pounds from over-indulging over the festive period!

Turbo trainers are designed to be adaptable to mountain bikes, and other than the turbo, the only additional expenditure is a slick rear tyre for your mountain bike. Having set yourself up, you can get some indoor exercise doing the sport you love, whilst watching the Extreme Sports channel. Awesome!

If you’ve enjoyed this article look out for Part-2 of our Ultimate Winter Mountain Biking Guide, where we will be sharing some tips to improve your skills & technique whilst on the bike. Merry Christmas!